DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- Jerry Robertson from Arvada, Colo. took a break from his partial NASCAR Busch Series schedule and won the United Power/Touchstone Energy "150" this past weekend at Colorado National Speedway located outside Denver. It was Robertson's second victory at CNS in NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series action and a rare visit this season to his former hometown track where he has amassed quite a record winning races and championships. While Robertson stole the show from the series regulars, point leader Jim Pettit II continued his momentum finishing second in the event to Robertson and extending his point lead over Burney Lamar.
The evening may have ended well for Robertson, but it did not start out on the most positive note. Robertson had one of the fastest cars during two practice sessions earlier in the day but when it came to qualify, Robertson made several changes to the car which resulted in a 19th place qualifying effort.
"I totally made the wrong calls on the car," Robertson said. "All the changes I made went the wrong way and we paid the price." Robertson would take his car into the pits during the pace laps before the field took the green as all cars were impounded after qualifying and no work could be done prior to the start of the race.
A driver who made no mistakes in qualifying was second year series driver Rip Michels of San Fernando, Calif. Michels scored his first career Bud Pole Award with a quick lap of 16.243 seconds around the wide and fast 3/8-mile paved oval. Michels time equated to 82.005 mph but he would have to start tenth after drawing a 10-car invert. The invert put another local star, Bruce Yackey, on the pole for the 150-lap event.
Eddy McKean, the 2002 Southwest Series champion, would start alongside Yackey on the front row. McKean's starting position ended up not being an advantage as he was not able to get his Pontiac up to speed at the drop of the green flag. Thomas Martin who started behind McKean crushed his nose when he ran into the back of McKean. The cars sorted themselves while McKean dropped back to the sixth position.
Yackey assumed the lead and led the first eleven laps before the handle on his Chevrolet went away, handing the lead over to Chris Muhler. Muhler took control of the race on lap 12. Local racer Bear Lynch was forced to pit early as his Chevrolet showed signs of smoke. He would pit several times and ultimately retire after running 82 laps.
McKean did not let his early start spoil his evening and quickly worked his way back into the second position behind Muhler on lap 13. The field sorted itself into a single file rhythm by lap 25 led by Muhler. McKean held down the second with Jim Pettit II, Burney Lamar, and Nick Lynch rounding out the top five.
Incredibly, Robertson was able to work his way inside the top ten in the first twenty-five laps and looked to have the fastest car on the track. The changes Robertson and the crew made during the initial pace laps paid off in a big way.
McKean dogged Muhler over the next fifteen laps, getting alongside on several occasions, but never able to complete the pass for the lead. McKean finally prevailed and grabbed the top spot on lap 44. McKean would build his lead to as much as five seconds on the the field as the first ninety circuits were caution free.
With more than a straight-away lead on the field, McKean had put all but the top ten a lap down, but the race would change for McKean when the first of five cautions flew for the stalled car of Nick Lynch on lap 90. Lynch lost his ignition and came to rest on the inside of turn one bunching up the field. Once the race restarted on lap 96, McKean was unable to keep Robertson at bay who had moved into the second position. McKean's car needed several green flag laps to get the car to where it handled. Robertson took the lead on 97.
With Robertson out front and McKean in tow, Pettit lead Auggie Vidovich, and Muhler in pursuit the top two. Vidovich slapped the front-stretch wall on lap 98 but managed to maintain his position. Lamar, Rip Michels, Greg Pursley, Thomas Martin, and Bruce Yackey were running solidly in the top ten as the race reached the lap 100 mark.
The second caution came out when Sunoco rookie leader Don Campbell looped his Chevrolet in turn two and sat squarely in the middle of the racing groove. Campbell was able to get his car re-fired but lost a second lap to the field in the process.
Robertson led the field to green on the lap 113 restart with McKean glued to his bumper. The Chevrolet of Muhler began to show signs of smoke that got progressively worse. Muhler's team was contact on the radio for several laps and advised to make his way to the pits. Muhler did not pit and five laps later his rear-end broke oiling down the entire track. The race was red-flagged while the track crew spent twenty minutes cleaning the racing surface.
Robertson again led the field to green on the lap 127 restart. If McKean, Pettit, Vidovich, or Lamar had anything for Robertson they would need to start to show their hand. The fourth caution came almost immediately on lap 130 for debris in the racing groove in turn three. The race restarted again on lap 133 where Pettit was able to get by McKean as the duo wrestled side-by-side in turn three and four.
The final caution waved for Ed Belec who lost the handle on his Chevrolet in turn four but would remain on the lead lap. The race would restart single file with lead lap cars up front. Robertson led Pettit, McKean, Vidovich, Lamar, Pursley, Yackey, Michels, and Belec all on the lead lap.
In the end, the changes that Robertson and his crew were able to make at the beginning of the race made all the difference at the end as he beat Pettit to the finish line by .910 seconds to score his second Southwest Series victory.
"I need to thank Tony Finley for letting me drive his car," Robertson said. "I nearly cost us a chance at a good finish with the wrong call for qualifying. The crew did a great job making the needed changes during the parade laps and the car was a rocket. Any time you win it is special and this is a big win for me."
Pettit was disappointed about the outcome but knows that he cleared another hurdle in his quest for a second series championship. "It was a good night for us but when you are that close to the front it is disappointing not to win. It was a good points night for us and with the big picture in mind, I am happy with our performance over the last three races."
Making his way into third after a thrilling pass on McKean during the final two laps was Burney Lamar who kept his championship alive. "This is such a fun track to drive," Lamar said. I knew that Eddy (McKean) needed a few laps to get his tires up to temperature and on the last restart I just dove to the inside and it stuck. I am happy with third place but if Jim (Pettit) keeps finishing in front of us it is going to be tough to catch him over the final four races."
"It was another strong run for the Star Nursery team," said Greg Pursley who finished fourth. "We struggled early in the year, but things are really turning around. We have great cars and the finishes are showing what we can do." Pursley was the 2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series National Champion who is in his second stint in the Star Nursery car owned by Craig Keough. Pursley previously drove the car during the 2001 season.
McKean was disappointed to finish fifth after leading 52 laps in the race. "That first caution hurt us that is for sure," McKean said. "Our car a few laps to get the tires to come in and then we were really good. To leave Colorado with two top five finishes and to move up in the points is good. It's on to Irwindale."
Pettit leaves Colorado with a lead of 113 points over Lamar with four races remaining the championship. Vidovich maintains third but loses ground after a sixth place finish at CNS. McKean vaults into the fourth spot with Greg Voigt in fifth. M.K. Kanke falls to sixth place despite an 11th place finish at CNS. Pursley, Nick Lynch, Rip Michels, and Thomas Martin round out the top ten in the standings after ten races.
On the outside the top ten and looking in are Bob Lyon and Sunoco rookie Don Campbell who are 11th and 12th in the point standings respectively. Both drivers are looking to make it into the top ten by season's end to get an invite to the prestigious NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown that will be staged in November at Irwindale (CA) Speedway. Lyon made his 282 career Southwest Series start at CNS, the most of any competitor in series history.